Marcella Crowson

Stan Foote, at the top

Oregon Children's Theatre's artistic director wins a major national award. Next stop: the brave new world of retirement.

Sometime today, Stan Foote will be standing on a stage in Atlanta, accepting one of the highest honors in the tight-knit creative world of American children’s theater. Foote, artistic director of Oregon Children’s Theatre in Portland, will receive the Harold Oaks Award for Sustained Excellence in TYA, along with Rosemary Newcott of the host Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, at the 2019 Theatre for Young Audiences/USA national festival and conference.

It’s an honor well-deserved and well-timed: Foote, who’s been working for OCT since 1991 and became its first artistic director a decade later, announced in February that he’ll be retiring after the company’s current season. During his tenure he’s directed close to 50 plays and guided OCT through 20 world-premiere productions, including highly acclaimed collaborations with leading children’s authors such as Lois Lowry (The Giver; Gossamer) and Louis Sachar (Holes), as well as prominent playwrights and adapters such as Eric Coble (The Storm in the Barn; Sacagawea; The Giver). He’s co-commissioned plays with companies across the country, firmly establishing OCT as a significant player nationally, and contributing greatly to the repertoire of plays for young audiences: Coble’s adaptation of Lowry’s The Giver has had more than 300 productions in the United States and internationally.

Ross McKeen, who’s worked alongside Foote as OCT’s managing director for a dozen years, says the relationship has been “a gift for me.” “His artistic vision in this field is remarkable,” McKeen said in a statement in February when Foote announced his impending retirement. “More than that, he has given this company a solid foundation of guiding values and vision, particularly in his respect and care for young people and his commitment to reaching every child.”

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Stan Foote, grabbing the microphone and talking to the crowd at an Oregon Children’s Theatre gala. Photo: Rebekah Johnson

LAST FRIDAY MORNING FOOTE SAT DOWN in a meeting room at Oregon Children’s Theatre headquarters off Northeast Sandy Boulevard for a long conversation, including, briefly, about the national award he’s receiving today. “That’s a cool thing,” he said, grinning. “The list of people who have gotten that award is pretty amazing.” He’d just got back from two weeks in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, a town he’s been visiting regularly for 22 years, and he was relaxed, well-tanned, and casually talkative, moving easily from reminiscences of his childhood to his life and career in Portland and his plans beyond. Much of his talk was about OCT, which has been his main professional home, and which he began working for early in its existence: Sondra Pearlman founded the company in 1988 as a branch of the old Portland Civic Theatre, and when PCT shut down two years later she took the children’s theater out on its own.

Under Foote’s tenure Oregon Children’s Theatre has developed a reputation not only for producing new works and clever adaptations aimed at young audiences of different ages, but also for maintaining high professional standards and not playing down to its audiences, but respecting their ability to meet the storytelling on its own terms. Theater is theater, Foote says. He objects to the belief “that directing a children’s play is different from directing for adults. It’s directing. It has all the same techniques; all the same elements of telling a story to an audience.”

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